Funerals Present a Window of Opportunity for Theft
Male-Dominated Funeral Industry On Its Last Leg

Clean Up Your Cemetery Act!

You would think there would be some accountability in death.

As most states do, South Carolina has a cemetery board. Established by the South Carolina Perpetual Care Cemetery Act, the Board has the power and duty to promulgate regulations of the state’s cemeteries, as per §48-8-20, with some exceptions (e.g., governmental cemeteries). The Act seems fairly rigid in its rules: no company may operate a cemetery without a license from the Board; the company must follow detailed guidelines in establishing a perpetual care trust fund; and the Board has the authority to take disciplinary against a licensee who violates any of the provisions.

In theory, the Board would hold Steve Kent, owner of the Barnwell County Memory Gardens and Bamberg County Memory Gardens, accountable for the reported overgrown and unkempt conditions of the gravesites in his cemeteries. In practice, it appears that the Board has been unable to enforce action against Kent ever since it revoked his cemetery licenses for not turning over financial records, which is required by law. Once the Board revokes a license, it is no longer responsible for monitoring the cemetery’s conditions. As one perceptive cemetery owner speculated, if her license is revoked, she can pretty much operate her cemetery in any way she sees fit and can throw out the rule book.

Well, as the Deputy Director of Professional & Occupational Licensing most likely was quick to note, there are other recourses to hold these cemetery violators accountable. The SC Perpetual Care Cemetery Board filed action against Steve Kent in the SC Administrative Law Court. After Kent willfully violated a Court Consent Order and a Court Contempt Order, the Court found that Kent remains in contempt for continuing to disobey its orders. The Court added $50,000 for the current finding of contempt to the previous $10,000 in sanctions. But in spite of all that, Kent has still not paid the fines and the cemetery is still a mess, although apparently it continues to operate.

So, what options are left for the despairing loved ones who have to trample overgrown weeds to pay respects to their departed? According to §6-1-35, the Preservation and protection of cemeteries Section of SC General Provisions of the Local Government, counties and municipalities are authorized to preserve and protect a cemetery that is not being maintained—but good luck getting that to be a priority. Then, there is always a tort action, but going back to the basic requirements of tort, is there a duty? Is there a special relationship between the families of the buried and the cemetery owner? What is the nature of the injury? Emotional distress? Or should a family member just trip and fall over the ill-maintained markers?

Lisa Roach

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